Ocean science deals with limited budgets


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A National Research Council report has outlined a range of budget cuts in the field of ocean science, including significant cuts to infrastructure expenses, in order to focus the available funds more wisely.

Faced with rising costs of going to sea, the ocean-sciences division of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) should immediately slash what it spends on marine hardware, says a new report. It suggests making the biggest cut to the flagship US$386-million Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which after years of construction is just months away from being finished.

The report, released on 23 January by the US National Research Council, is likely to guide US oceanography for years to come. It is the first formal attempt to address what many researchers have grumbled about for years — that basic ocean science at the NSF is losing out to the rising costs of infrastructure.

This report and the response of the ocean science community illustrates a pattern going on throughout the sciences. For years, their budgets had been rising so fast that they really didn’t know what to do with the money. (I know they would disagree with me.) This resulted in some laziness in how they spent it, including a great deal of feather-bedding and pork.

Now that budgets have frozen and are no longer growing, and in many cases shrinking back to more affordable levels, they need to figure out what is essential and what is not. This report is part of that effort.

I am seeing this same process happening in other fields as well. Santa, in the form of unlimited federal spending, has gone home, and is unexpected to return for quite some time.

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